2019 will be the year of ethical IT

There is no way to analyze how tech makes us feel, we only learn from our successes and failures.
1 January 2019

Culture must become integral to software development. Source: Shutterstock

It’s that time of year when we look ahead to the next twelve months and ask what kind of major development trends we’re likely to see impacting our information technology (IT).

Of course, time is really just a relative concept, so the passing of the next annual lunar measurement should have absolutely no impact on technology platforms whatsoever. But that doesn’t usually stop us; so let’s press on.

An impossible task

There are many trends surfacing all around the IT universe, so to pinpoint one major change factor is a near impossible task.

Cloud platforms (and companies) are consolidating, core aspects of software application development are becoming more discretely componentized and the proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) is changing the way we interact with machines at every level.

As general and all-encompassing as the above statement sounds, there is a theme to distill from these trends… and it is related to humanity rather than binary digits and data.

As we start to automate and apply increasingly massive amounts of computing power to our lives, we need to be able to step back and determine where the ethical and cultural lines need to be drawn in order for us to still be able to function as responsible human beings in the longer term.

Ethical responsibility

To explain the question of ethics in more certain terms; let’s look at how AI is being applied.

We are now using AI-driven software functions to create chatbots and other methods of automated interaction. But do we always step back and ask whether we have built these software engines with an appropriate level of sensitivity to individuals’ differences in religion, culture, gender, and other feelings?

The answer, in most cases, is probably not, so in 2019 we will spend more time thinking about how IT affects people on these personal levels.

Culture comes into technology at two levels. Firstly, there are the cultural sensitivities as already mentioned— that’s culture as in the sense of geographic or racial differences. Secondly, there is the culture in the sense of workplace methodologies.

Cultural shifts

The IT industry broadly agrees that we are now at a key turning point for the way work is done.

Practices like DevOps (the combination of developers and operations departments) serve to create new workplace dynamics. People will actually start to do things differently based upon new operational cultures that take defined business models and translate them into technology delivery.

Culture will also now start to impact the way IT is built.

In the past we’ve only seen ‘top-down’ IT rollout, i.e., the IT department chooses some software, configures it, tests it… and then it deploys it and we all use it.

The cultural shift here (driven in part by the consumerization of IT) sees that trend reversed i.e. people know what they want in terms of apps, services and devices and they ask for it.

Looking into 2019, this trend for unprecedented user choice will be further compounded by the rise of so-called ‘low-code’ software development platforms. Here we see users building ‘stuff’ (and by that, we mean specific app functionalities) the way they want it from the get-go.

No control gauge

The hard part here will be knowing where and when to apply ethical controls and knowing what cultural approach (in both senses of the word) works best for which people in which teams.

There is no control gauge or magical software barometer to help us analyze where technology impacts our lives and how it makes us feel, we have to build it and can only learn from our successes and failures.

At least knowing that that responsibility lies on the road ahead for 2019 and beyond could help us to be ethically and culturally IT-literate in the days and weeks to come.